Being a Witness
This past Sunday, April 15th, we made the decision to cancel our service of worship due to the freezing rain and icy conditions. Posted below is the sermon which Rev. Ellis wrote for the service. It focuses on the words of Jesus to the disciples, “You will be witnesses to these things” which are found near the end of Luke’s gospel. Luke continues this thread of thought in his next book, The Acts of the Apostles where Jesus again says to the disciples, “Be my witness, in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8).
The focus of the sermon is to ask the question what does it mean to witness something and by extension what does it mean to be a ‘witness’? What was Jesus asking of, or perhaps we should say what was Jesus telling the disciples? The question for ourselves, is how does this passage speak into our own lives?
Text: Luke 24: 36-48
Being a Witness
This week I witnessed a child fall in a playground, she was ok. I witnessed homelessness and poverty, in our community. I witnessed misunderstanding between neighbours. I witnessed suffering and people plagued with ill health. This week I witnessed a nation mourn.
I did not ask to witness these things.
I did not seek out these opportunities or experiences.
Witnessing is not optional.
Professor Karoline Lewis writes, “Witnessing is not voluntary, but a state of being.” (Working Preacher).
You, I am sure, have events that you witnessed this week. Perhaps, for some of those events, you are the only witness. For some events, you are the only individual on the entire planet, who witnessed a particular event.
Perhaps you took an early morning walk and found yourself alone on the Cobourg beach as the sun dawned. You hold the collective memory of that event, you are the sole witness to that dawn on that day in that place.
Perhaps you stepped out late at night to let the dog out. Looking up at the vastness of space you saw a single star streak across the sky. At that moment, you are the sole witness to that event.
If you have ever sat alone with an individual who is dying. You are the individual who witnessed those last breathes.
Witnessing, as part of a collective or as an individual, is a great honour. It is not something to be taken lightly.
At the end of our passage from Luke’s gospel this morning Jesus says to the disciples, “You are witnesses of these things.”
Healing, teaching God’s truth, standing with the oppressed and marginalized. Understanding that the scriptures as a whole point to a greater truth, a truth which has been born out in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Understanding what that truth means for creation. These are the things, which the disciples were witness to.
We are also witness to these things. Through our understanding of scripture, our collective and historical memory we continue to witness to these events. To provide the world a glimpse of Jesus.
We also do more than that. We also witness to the events of our time and provide understanding of these events through a uniquely Christian lens.
We share the with the world the events of Easter. Of the death and resurrection of Jesus and what that means for our lives. How that death changes our lives and the promise of eternity that is wrapped in these events.
We share the teaching and healing ministry of Jesus with the world. Reminding many in our society that we still have a lot of work to do. That though the events of Jesus may exist long in the past, we have not really come very far. There is too much that is troubling and broken in God`s good creation. Which is why we need to stand up as witnesses to work that Jesus began.
But it goes further and deeper than that. Somewhat like Alice and the Rabbit Hole, witnessing has no ending.
Witnessing is not optional.
What are we witness to in our own lives?
Rev. Dr. Marvin McMickle writes that there are three implications of what it means to be a witness for Jesus:
- Seeing something
- Saying something
- Suffering something
(McMickle, Marvin A. Be My Witness: The Great Commission for Preachers).
We all see things. We are all paying attention in varying degrees. We see people come for a meal at a soup kitchen, line up for food at a food bank or sleep rough. We listen to neighbours squabble about the character of a neighbourhood. Whether or not a school should be built, whether we should allow affordable housing. In Toronto this week a neighbourhood said no to a day care, because it would disrupt the character of the neighbourhood. A witness sees things.
But now it gets harder. A witness is someone who is willing to say something about what they have seen. The image that comes to mind is of the court room and the witness giving sworn testimony. Jesus asked the disciples to say something when the law was being used improperly. Jesus asked the disciples to say something when the poor were further marginalized. Jesus urged the disciples to say something when they saw barriers of gender and ethnicity getting in the way of relationship.
We see lots of things that we know are wrong in the world and within out community. Are we prepared to say something about it?
Which leads us to the third point, a witness is one who suffers something. Saying something is often times hard enough, but to be willing to suffer for that thing you said which you know and believe to be true. A witness of Jesus Christ is one who is willing to suffer something. To be put out or inconvenienced. The word witness in Greek is Marturia, which is where we get our word martyr.
A witness for Jesus Christ is one who is willing to take a stand for God’s justice, no matter the consequences.
In our passage this morning, Jesus challenges the disciples to be witnesses to these things. In the book of Acts, also written by Luke Jesus raises this challenge again when he tells the disciples to, “Be my witness, in Jerusalem, and in Judea, and in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1: 6-8.
We don’t become a follower of Jesus because it is the popular thing to do. Or at least we shouldn’t. Being a follower of Jesus is about more than gathering for an hour of worship on a Sunday morning. It is a calling and it instills a challenge upon our lives. If we are faithful to what Jesus is asking of us then we must also be willing to sacrifice.
This week I witnessed a child demonstrate resiliency when they picked themselves up and got back to playing. I witnessed a community mobilizing around the issue of homelessness. I witnessed neighbours working together. I witnessed healing and concern for those who are ill. This week I witnessed a nation begin to heal. Amen.